LEXINGTON, Ky. – Five extra-base hits, including two blasts from freshman Taylor Schwarz (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.), helped lead the Florida (51-7) softball squad to a SEC Tournament Semifinals victory over Eastern Division rival Georgia, 9-5, advancing the Gators to the SEC Tourney Championship Game Saturday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
Florida will make its sixth SEC Championship Game appearance, second consecutive after facing Alabama in the 2012 league finale. Florida will face the winner of Tennessee/Missouri, currently being played at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington. UF took two of three from Tennessee in Gainesville, all three games going eight innings, while the Orange and Blue played the longest game in Florida history against Missouri in a non-conference clash at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Palm Springs, Calif. The Tigers came out on top, 4-3, following the 12-inning thriller.
UF has twice won the SEC Tournament: 2008 and 2009, having played in the conference tournament title game in 1997, 2007 and 2012 as well. Florida is now 21-23 (.875) all-time in the SEC Tournament. The Gators are 13-4 (.764) against top-25 opponents, tops in the SEC, own 17 come-from-behind wins – seven in SEC play – and are 5-2 (.714) in extra-inning games in 2013. Florida owns 18 shutouts, paced by Rogers’ nine.
Schwarz went yard in both the first and third innings and Florida put up 12 hits, its most against a SEC opponent, as the Gators reached double-digit hits for the fifth time against a SEC opponent this season. Junior Stephanie Tofft (Lincoln, Calif.) was a perfect 3-for-3 with two RBI and two runs scored, while Schwarz checked in 2-for-4 with three RBI and two runs scored. Freshman Kirsti Merritt (Lake Panasoffkee, Fla.) additionally reached base in her 16th straight game for the Gators.
Junior ace Hannah Rogers (Lake Wales, Fla.) (7.0 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 7K) picked up the win in the circle, tossing a no-hitter through four innings to improve to 29-5 for the Gators.
Two two-run jacks highlighted the first inning against the Bulldogs Saturday in the SEC Tournament Semifinals, as sophomore designated player Lauren Haeger (Peoria, Ariz.) blasted a two-out bomb to left field for the 2-0 lead, her 17th of the season, before Schwarz followed with a two-run dinger of her own to straight-away center.
Tofft started things off, using her speed to beat a two-out infield single bounced to the UGA second baseman to set up Haeger’s success, while senior Kelsey Horton (Valrico, Fla.) was hit by a pitch before Schwarz went yard with her eighth long ball of the season, chasing UGA starter Geri Ann Glasco (0.2 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 1 K) from the circle.
Tofft struck again in the second for the Orange and Blue, again with two outs, sending a two-run single up the middle to pour it on and extend the Gators’ lead, 6-0.
A solo bomb from Schwarz, this time to left field, and a RBI triple from freshman Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) – her staggering eighth of the season, plated UF’s seventh and eighth runs of the game against Georgia.
After Rogers forced three up, three down in the top of the fourth, Horton connected for a RBI single to plate UF’s ninth run of the game to bring Tofft home after the Gators’ third baseman connected for her third hit of the day, moved to second on the play and took third on a UGA passed ball before Horton sent her home for the 9-0 Gators advantage.
Tess Sito led off the fifth for the Bulldogs, Georgia’s first hit of the day, to break up Rogers’ no-hitter through four, and Georgia found its way on the scoreboard after a RBI groundout and Paige Wilson two-out, two-run double down the right-field line that narrowed UF’s lead, 9-3.
Sophomore Jess Damico (Gray Summit, Mo.) led off the bottom of the sixth with a double – her fourth two-bagger of the season – but relief pitcher Morgan Montemayor (5.1 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 K) retired the side with a pop up, ground out and strikeout.
The Bulldogs didn’t back down, as Wilson came through with a two-run single to narrow the Gators lead to 9-5 in the top of the seventh, but Rogers fanned Glasco and forced Kaylee Puailoa to ground out to end the game.
In addition to ESPN coverage, Gator fans can also keep track of all Florida’s games live locally and online on the radio at 105 The Game, with Adam Schick and Megan Bush on the call. For all broadcast information throughout the postseason, stay posted to UF’s schedule page on GatorZone.com.
Florida, the first team in the country to 50 wins, chalked up the program’s fifth 50-win season in history with its 8-4 SEC quarterfinals victory over Alabama Thursday.